Pauses Have Purpose
It was 1985 and I was excited to begin the next step in my educational and career journey. We had just recently moved to Virginia Beach, VA, to pursue our first ministry work. I was serving as a youth pastor and my wife was teaching kindergarten in our Christian school. We were full of expectation, wonder at what God was going to do, and finding our way in the world. We wanted to follow God's plan as a newly married couple...having just just celebrated our one-year anniversary. After about a year there, I decided it was time to take the next step in my education. You see, I had determined that God was leading me to pursue a graduate degree in counseling to better equip me to engage my calling to help others find peace, healing and fulfillment. I considered the local graduate school options...a state school that was very close by, a Christian graduate school that had a connection to a well-known religious leader and a somewhat exclusive college that was in the historic town of Williamsburg. After visiting campuses, gathering information, and prayerfully considering the options, I settled on The College of William and Mary in Virginia. I knew that this was the most challenging of the three, regarding admissions standards, but I believed it was the right place for me. Long-story-short, I was accepted and started pursuing my Masters of Education in Agency Counseling.
It was a great experience. I was introduced to many new things and challenged with learning all of the theoretical and technical aspects of mental health therapy. I was impressed with many of the professors. Although it was not a faith-based university, the faculty were always welcoming of my integration of biblical principles and thought into my work. I did not have a scholarship or internship, and my financial resources were meager, therefore, I had to go part-time, taking only one or two courses at a time...as I could afford to pay for them. This would mean that my completion time would be longer than normal, but I was okay with that. I had my plate full with the ministry responsibilities and my wife.
Things went along well for a while, until something happened that changed the timeline...
Doors Lead to Passageways
Falling leaves interrupt the beam of my headlights as they reflect off of the wet pavement along this winding rural road in the Tennessee hills. My eyes are heavy after a full day of working, but the constant awareness of the dead body in the back of my vehicle, keeps me distracted from the fatigue. Driving through the night, I wonder at how, being a fresh college graduate just a few months ago, I would have never imagined being in this situation. Driving a vehicle with a corpse right behind my seat? Really?!? Not me! But, it was true. I was in a situation that I had never dreamed would ever happen.
My headlights illuminate the the eerily darkened building as I turn into the drive. Pulling up to the rear entrance, the only thing going through my mind is getting the body out of my vehicle and into this building, so that I can get on my way...back home where I am safe, dry and warm.
When You Need a Reboot
I used to write curriculum for a publisher who provided Bible study resources. I wrote for teens, adults and teachers of these age groups. It was something I enjoyed, as it allowed me to exercise my creativity while producing resources that impacted people with the powerful truth of God’s Word.
This work was not an easy endeavor, because I was doing it as a "side hustle" while conducting my full-time career in education and ministry. So, there were many late nights, or weekends, that I would be working hard to meet a publication deadline. It always felt good to hit the “save” button and complete a project…send it off to the publisher and rest until the next assignment came.
I learned a vital lesson, however, on one occasion, as I was working hard to complete an assignment. Nearing the end of the particular series I was writing, I was just about to call it quits for the night. In the process of shutting down my computer...and I can't tell you what I did wrong...I lost all of the work I had spent hours creating. I don’t need to tell you, I was all kinds of crazy at that moment...in disbelief, angry, flabbergasted, sad, frustrated...it was a flood of emotions. The bad news...there was no option to recover the lost material. I searched for recovery methods, I sought advice, I googled advice. I found no rescue. The only choice I had, was to reboot and start over. All of that work…study, development of the studies, teaching methods and ideas…all of it was gone. I just turned off the computer and went to bed. However, the lesson I learned?...save your work often...I discovered auto-save and that never happened again.
Last Sunday, as my wife and I were returning home from church and having lunch with friends, I did something I seldom do on a Sunday afternoon. I set my GPS to lead us home. We were on the east side the city, and we live on the northwest side. Sometimes interstates can get backed up on Sundays, with summer travelers either heading out for their week of vacation, or going back home. So, I thought Siri would make sure I detoured any standstill traffic and get us home more quickly. About an hour and fifteen minutes later, we were finally arriving at our front door...a trip that typically takes about thirty minutes. The kicker was, there were no traffic jams or heavy-traffic slow-downs. Apparently, I had accidentally set the maps app to avoid highways. I think we explored every back road and country avenue there was between Old Hickory and Ashland City. We saw countryside we had never seen before. What should have been about a thirty-minute trip, ended up being 1 1/2 times longer. A GPS navigation device can be a helpful tool...as a matter of fact, I have become accustomed to using them extensively in my day-to-day work as well as any road trip we take. I follow the directions without much thought, unlike the days when I had to read a paper roadmap. As you can see, sometimes that can be a problem. As a matter of fact, it could be dangerous, if one doesn't remain alert. On at least two occasions, while traveling, I have had the GPS navigation device tell me to go the wrong way on a one-way street. As much as we rely upon navigation technology, we need to be intentional and alert in order to stay on the right path...the one that gets us to where we need to be.
A Rested Development
Long before it was an American hit sitcom, or a rap music group, the term "arrested development" was used to describe a condition in which the individual ceases normal psychological development (or is stuck in a particular psychological development stage) due to trauma, lacking some aspect of nurturance, or a chemical addiction. Though no longer used in that manner among psychological professionals, the concept crossed my mind as I thought about the topic of this post. I thought of it as a play on words, but nevertheless, to drive home a point.
In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of the rhythms of life. The final point of that post was the importance of the "Rhythm of Rest and Self-Care." As we consider the drive of living our purpose in life, one of the first considerations is not usually taking a rest. Understandably, our drive and desire to live purposefully may also be a drive to think only of activity and neglect the balance that our lives need. How may our development of a purposeful life be arrested if we neglect our rest?
Jesus gave us the example of a balanced life. He was fully committed to His purpose...the most important mission in all the world. He led a very busy life of ministry leading up to His ultimate sacrifice as Messiah. Yet, he always made sure to find time for rest and for solitude. When God set the example for us in His acts of creation, he established the Sabbath rest. The regular rhythm of rest is what we need...God knows that.
And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy.
And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
The Apostle Peter reminds us that a relationship with Jesus actually promotes rest...for the soul.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7
Jesus put it this way...
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
So...what does rest look like for you...daily rest, weekly rest, times of retreat and solitude? These are all important in the rhythm of life. Rest can include many things...each person is unique in how they find rest and refreshment. Think about what it is that is life-giving for you. What is it that, when you have engaged it, you emerge energized, fulfilled and prepared for the challenges of life? Consider some suggestions:
Universal Elements of Rest
For the follower of Christ, there are some elements of rest that can be incorporated into any rest experience we find rejuvenating. Consider how these fit your unique choices.
So, there you have it...my thoughts on the importance of incorporating rest into your life. God, the Father, instructed it; Jesus, His Son, modeled it; and, through His Spirit, enables it. Now, it is our responsibility to plan it. If you do, you will find "a rested development" of a well-balanced life.
How do you find rest in the midst of the busyness of life? What are your favorite modes of rest? Have you experienced the negative effects of a lack of adequate rest? If so, how did you deal with it? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Like and share the post on social media. We really do want to have a conversation about living our purpose well...sharing your story may be just the thing someone else needs to hear.
Two of the most awe-inspiring places I've ever visited, as an American, were thousands of miles apart, but their impact comes from the same source. Those two locations were Arlington National Cemetery and Normandy American Cemetery.
I remember my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, DC. Observing the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier was a moving experience. The solemn silence of that ceremony, with the precision performance of the guards, punctuate the purpose of the place...to honor all of those who have fallen in battle, who's bodies are lost or who were unable to be identified. Taking that into consideration, as I stood and gazed across the rolling hills lined with more than 14,000 white grave markers, I was struck by the reality of the sacrifice and investment made by millions of people over the history of our nation.
Fast-forward two decades and 3,749 miles, I find myself standing on the grounds of the Normandy American Cemetery. There, as in Arlington, I saw the perfect lines of white makers, identifying the graves of over 9,000 troops who died in Europe during World War II. These were individuals who gave the ultimate sacrifice to insure freedom for millions who were being persecuted, oppressed and murdered by the advancement of tyranny and dictatorial evil intent on taking over the world. As I stood that day, looking out over Omaha Beach, where allied troops landed to make headway in driving back the advancement of tyranny, a Frenchman stood next to me. Knowing that I am an American, he looked at me and said, "Thank you for what your country did here for the people of France."
On this Memorial Day, we must continue to be reminded of the value of those who have served our nation well as members of the armed forces. Most importantly, we remember the great price paid by many who have given the most...by giving their lives. Their sacrifice has helped to preserve freedom for Americans and others around the world. When we stand in places like Arlington National Cemetery, there is a sense that those who have sacrificed for our freedom, stand in the stadium of the heavens looking on, cheering us on, to continue to fight for liberty and defend against the evils of those who are intent upon destroying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all in this world who cherish freedom.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
The writer of the book of Hebrews also spoke of a "stadium" of onlookers who cheer for those who are in the fray of the daily pursuit of our life of faith. In this visual that the Hebrews writer gives us, the context is that of an athletic race of endurance. This race of the life of faith is from salvation to our eternal destination. As we run this race, were are being cheered on by this huge crowd of witnesses who have gone before us...they have completed the race. Now, they cheer for us to complete it as well.
Others Have Pioneered the Way
One of the things that Memorial Day does for Americans is to remind us that others have paved the way for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. In some ways, we realize that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. This inspires us to continue to stand strong for freedom and strength as a nation. In the visual of Hebrews 12, the same thing is provided. We are reminded that we have this legacy of faith because many have gone before us to lay the foundation. We are inspired to follow in their path of the race that has been laid out before us. They surround us. They encourage us with their faithful race. They remind us that we do not run in vain. Our hearts are inspired. Our faith in spurred on to strengthen our race.
They Remind Us What is Required
No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer (2 Timothy 2:4). Those who serve our nation in the military, do so with a commitment and lifestyle that sacrifices the things that civilians take for granted. They volunteer to place themselves under the direction of a commander who expects their complete loyalty to the cause...to the mission to which they have been assigned. In this race of faith...this warfare that we fight...the cloud of witnesses reminds us that we are called to make the choices to live a disciplined and dedicated life of faith.
So, let's stick with one metaphor here. The Hebrews passage is using the metaphor of running a race. He tells us that there are two things we must do in order to run this race well...running with endurance. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). Let's consider the "rules" given here in Hebrews 12:
1. Lay aside every weight
No runner, wanting to finish the race of endurance well, wants to carry extra weight. Rather, a runner makes sure that they have nothing to hinder their performance. For the follower of Christ, running the race of faith, the same is true. We are encouraged to lay aside anything that will slow us down in our race. The Apostle Paul wrote about this principle, "Everything is permissible for me," but not everything is helpful. "Everything is permissible for me," but I will not be brought under the control of anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). To run well means that we sometimes we make decisions about what is best, not just what is right. So, think of what areas of life that may hold issues for you here. Are there things that distract you from priorities? Are there activities that prevent you from focusing on what is really important? Are there involvements that become addictive? These aren't sin in themselves, but they are weights that slow you down in running the race well. These are the things that need to be laid aside.
2. Lay aside every sin
This is a little more clear...usually. As a follower of Christ, we accept the Word of God as our guide for faith and life. It is the truth that instructs us concerning right and wrong...the absolutes and the laws that lay out for us how to live a life of holiness that benefits us and fulfills our calling. As Ephesians 4:1 reminds us, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called..." Through confession and repentance, we can lay aside the sins that, don't just slow us down, but which entangle us...presenting the danger of causing us to fall. We cannot hope to run our race of faith without giving attention to this process. The promise we are given, when we commit ourselves to holiness, is forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 1:9-2:1). So, you see, laying aside the sin that entangles us is a matter or confession and the forgiveness of God. It is as simple as that.
We Have the Perfect Champion
This is all about focus. The soldier on the battlefield is attentive to the orders of the commander. The athlete on the field must be focused on the instructions of the coach. In our race of faith, we have the perfect "coach." He has "initiated" and "perfected" our faith. Jesus is not a "religious leader" who just demands and orders his followers to blindly do things that keep them under his control. Instead, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to initiate and complete the faith that we have acquired. Therefore, we can run our race with our eyes fixed upon Him...we listen to His voice...we watch for His hand at work in our lives. It is His work in us, and His power in us, that enables us to finish the race successfully. He is in the place of power and status, at the right hand of the Father. The good news is, we are seated there with Him. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus... (Ephesians 2:4-6). Being seated with Christ at the Father's right hand means we have access to all the power, covering, wisdom, grace and sustenance that we need to run well and to finish well.
What an amazing visual to imagine, that all the saints of the ages past are gathered around us in the heavenly realm, cheering us on to victory as we run our race of faith with endurance. That race is possible because of the One who's Spirit lives in us. We can finish the race well...we can fulfill our purpose for which God designed us. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:8-9). We will not grow weary in living our purpose as long as we allow His Spirit to fill us daily.
Who are the specific people who have gone before you to pave the way of faith? What have you laid aside that has helped you to run more effectively? Comment, like and share this post to get the conversation going!
In Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem Finch confronts his Aunty Alexandra's prejudiced and shallow opinions of those "less desirable," by quoting his father, Atticus...
"Aunty...Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't."
There's a lot of truth in that little quote. In the context of the novel, it confronts the condescending and "better-than-thou" thinking that people can have toward others they deem less acceptable than themselves. For Aunty Alexandra, it was that certain members of the community were not welcome in her house due to their socio-economic status, even if they were members of her own family...certainly an attitude to be challenged.
However, there's another aspect of the quote I want to use as the focus of this Mother's Day post: "...you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not..." You can't choose your family...they are still kin. Family...the family we have, and the role we have in that family, are probably the most influential things in our lives...impacting our childhood development, teaching us our core values, instilling our core beliefs about ourselves, others and the world around us. The family to which we belong, has the potential to be the greatest influence on who we become and the life we pursue...that's nothing to take lightly.
Mother's Day is a reminder of this. This day has been set aside to honor the mothers' who have played such an important role in our lives. More than 50 countries around the world have a day designated to celebrate mothers, signifying that the role of the mother is such an admired and revered one in families, no matter the culture. Such sentiment was portrayed in the poem by William Ross Wallace, the title of which speaks volumes, "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the Word."
An Example of a Mother's Influence
Susanna Annesley was born the youngest of 25 children to a London clergyman. She was brought up with a strong Christian education in her English home. When she met Samuel Wesley, it was through the visits of he and his pastor father, among many who came to the Annesley home. Susanna and Samuel married and she became the wife of a minister as well. Through many heartaches, challenges of ministry, tragedy of the death of 9 of her children, marital conflict and loss of all material possession through a fire that destroyed the rectory, Susanna was a stalwart wife and mother of strong faith. She reared her 10 surviving children, educating them in their home, while supporting her husband in ministry and managing household financial affairs.
One may say that Susanna Wesley was a tremendous success, as she worked as a partner to her husband in his ministry. She even conducted worship services for parishioners in their home, during an extended absence of her husband, that was very popular with the members of the church. She was resilient, strong-willed, of deep spiritual faith and a meticulous organizer and manager of the household. However, perhaps author Anne Adams put it best when she wrote of the true success of Susanna Wesley:
"Susanna’s place in Christian history is indeed based on what her sons accomplished but it could be said to have been her example and influence that helped them to do what they did. Susanna’s best legacy was indeed her children, particularly John...Indeed, a great legacy from a woman who expressed a simple desire: 'I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”'
Our Family and Our Purpose
The question we consider today is, "How does the role we have in our family inform how we pursue the God-given purpose that we have?" Does it? Should it? I contend, there is really no way to avoid it.
As a husband or wife, we have made a commitment to that marriage partner that changed our lives the day we said, "I do." That means that we no longer make decisions with consideration only for our own interests. Pursuing our purpose as a spouse includes that commitment and the way we integrate our faith with one another. One of our Purposed 365 community members, Tim Johnson, put it this way, "One of the purposes in my marriage is to be a student of my wife." I like the way that is stated. I am fulfilling my purpose as I learn all I can about the person with whom I have committed to journey through this life. I can't hope to relate to her, understand her and care for her effectively if I don't know the person she really is.
The Scripture instructs husbands and wives, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21), and "In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). Submitting ourselves to one another, understanding and living with one another in a partnership, requires that we know one another. As P365 community member, Erica Renee Cox McKinney, stated, "I feel more in my purpose when my family life is taken care of...I find it brings order, unity, less stress and chaos." I couldn't agree more. When we focus on our spousal role and prioritize that relationship, fulfilling our purpose naturally flows out of that priority.
I believe the best fulfillment of my purpose, in partnership with my wife, was bringing up our daughter in the ways of the Lord. We are proud of the woman she has become, and the role of wife and mother that she is fulfilling in her own purpose. In commenting on this topic, she (Emily Simpkins) shared, "...Mothering represents laying down your life for another, which represents the Gospel. WOW! That really caught my attention, what greater purpose can I have than to be a clear representation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? So, I would say being intentional in not only my words and actions, as a mother and wife, but in my thoughts as well. I am striving (and still failing most of the time) to approach motherhood as kingdom work and as one of the most important ways I can fulfill my purpose right now." Community member, Kimberly Hall described her intention to teach and model what is right as she strives to influence them positively, "As my children age, I feel the purpose to keep them grounded. Hopefully, I have raised them to know right from wrong. I try to always be a positive influence. As your children watch what you do, you are their example and they learn as they look up to their parents."
The Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy, commending the faith-filled rearing from his mother and grandmother, "I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you" (2 Timothy 1:5). He knew that it was crucial in Timothy's development, that he have a mother and grandmother who accepted it central to their purpose, to bring him up in the nurture of the Christian faith. This enabled Timothy to learn and prepare to fulfill his purpose in ministry.
Let me hasten to add, however, a very important point. The comments of our community members, and the reality of my own experience, remind us that fulfilling our purpose as parents is one of imperfection, requiring grace and constant seeking of the right way to guide our children. There were times, as our daughter was growing up, that I had to pray for wisdom and work to keep communication open and use teachable moments. It was a learning experience for us that required a lot of grace and help of the Holy Spirit. Whether we are bringing up our biological children, step children, or a blended family, keeping our focus on the wisdom that God gives, will enable us to purposefully parent those whom God has commended to us. Community member, Angie Melson, expressed this challenge, "Being a stepmom to adult children and a child of aging parents feels overwhelming at times. I struggle with finding my 'sweet spot' in parenting adult children. I don’t want to be too hovering to them but I also want them to know I’m here and I love and think of them daily." It isn't easy, and there's no "one size fits all" approach to the challenges of parenting. As our children grow older, our parenting relationship changes. It takes care and wisdom to traverse that phase. There are two things that should be constant, however. One is that we continue to love them unconditionally and the second, that we continue to seek God's wisdom to discern how to adapt to change and communicate effectively. We are reminded in James 1:5, "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking."
Children of Aging Parents
For many of us, our parenting experience goes through several stages...not necessarily in this particular order. We start our family with the birth and early development of our children. They go through adolescence, which can have its unique challenges. Then, they begin to leave the nest and move into young adulthood...college, career, marriage. We may become grandparents as our own children grow older and start families of their own. At some point, then, we begin to transition in our relationship with our own parents as they enter their elder years. We may find ourselves, in some ways, taking on a parental role to our parents...securing their safety, managing their finances, planning for and providing day-to-day care. It is new territory for most people and can be very challenging, especially if it comes at a time when you are in the busiest phase of your career, or while being pulled toward supporting and engaging with your own children and grandchildren. Again, Angie Melson wrote, "With aging parents, it’s tough to navigate that relationship at times as well, because, like you mentioned, the roles are a bit reversed, but we will always be their children. So...I’m working on finding my purpose in this stage of life I find myself, and looking for ways to experience joy and gratitude for the blessings of having these beautiful family members in my life." That is a beautiful way of expressing the challenge of the journey. In the midst of this season, we can know that we have purpose...caring for those we love...supporting them in their declining years...helping them feel safe and valued and loved. That purpose in itself brings joy...for, what a privilege it is to care for the ones who spent so much of their lives caring for us. "Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).
The words of Jem Finch echo in my mind, "You sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not." If I could choose my family, I would choose the very ones I already have. In each season of my life, whether as a spouse, parent or child, I want to live my purpose as I integrate my faith into each of those relationships. In the words of Susanna Wesley, "I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified."
How has your mother influenced your pursuit of purpose? What has your family role taught you about purpose? How are you living your purpose in your family role in this season of your life? Comment and share!
Resuming the Route
He has a good sense of direction so when there's a traffic back-up, he tries the back roads to get around it. It doesn't matter that it doesn't eventually save any time, it's just the fact that he can keep moving. Even though it takes just as long, and involves more miles, he feels satisfied that he is able to be "making progress" instead of sitting still in traffic on the interstate. His wife has come to realize this is sort of his method of operation on road trips and sometimes, she will say, "Don't you want to just be patient and wait in out?" But, most of the time, she just humorously asks, "Do you know where you're going?" Undaunted, however, he revels in his achievement when he emerges triumphant in bypassing the back-up and gets back on the original route beyond the jam, and moving once again at highway speed.
Does this sound familiar? I can speak so well of this scenario because this guy is me. I think it may be a man thing, but maybe many of the females reading this can relate as well. Sometimes my endeavors serve me well, and sometimes it gets me into a situation where I'm no better off than I was sitting in the creeping line of cars. Sometimes I get off the original route because I consciously choose to try a different route. However, at other times, I missed a turn, requiring me to recalculate my route and ultimately losing time in reaching my destination.
The reality?...we all get sidetracked sometimes. What do we do when it happens? Just this week, for example, I missed publishing this post on Tuesday as I have been doing weekly all year. You're seeing this post become available on Friday, three days later than usual. How do I deal with that? Maybe your'e thinking, "That's no big deal." But, for some of us, just getting off track on even a little thing in life can cause our rhythms to be upset and we end up spiraling in some way. This could be simple and short-lived in something as basic as a diet, or something as serious and impactful as an addiction. So, here are a few principles I've learned that you may find helpful to recalculate your route if you get side-tracked.
There is a better way. It is to think intentionally, to look at things realistically and to give yourself permission to keep going without expectations that are irrational for yourself.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.
How have you had to recalculate your course when sidetracked? What unhelpful thinking are you most vulnerable to? Are there strategies you can share to help others in this situation? Share in the comments and like our posts. We are so happy you are engaging in our community.
God, Let Me Help You Out!
It was September 18, 2010. My wife and I had traveled from our home in central Arkansas to middle Tennessee, for a weekend of ministry. We had been invited back to the congregation we had served for 10 years, as they were dedicating a new facility to serve their community. As I prepared the message I would share that Sunday morning, I had no idea how the truth God showed me would be a test of my own trust in His sovereignty.
The dedication message on that Sunday would come from Joshua 4:1-11. It was a challenge and encouragement to stack the stones of life that represent how God has worked in us, so that they offer a memorial/testimony of praise to His glory. I encouraged the people to glorify God because He is faithful, honor Him as the Great Provider, and to glorify Him for the sake of future generations.
...“Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
God has a knack of bringing the truth of His Word into the reality of our daily lives in ways we might not expect. Saturday night, prior to my sermon presentation, the process began to do just that. I would have the opportunity to have my trust in God's sovereignty tested and tried and proven. That evening I received a call from a pastor of one or our churches in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. As the call unfolded, I learned of the tragic accident that resulted in the death of one of their high school students in the church and school. The loss of this young man was having a ripple effect among the students and the community. They needed someone to come and provide crisis/grief counseling to their students and families. He asked if I would come and help.
Take Charge and Get Things Planned
Time was of the essence. The students, staff and families needed support and counseling as soon as possible. There was no time to waste, so we went to work trying to plan the logistics of getting me to St. Croix and getting my wife back home. I had to re-pack and arrange my flight out of Little Rock, once I returned home on Monday. It was a 7-hour drive back to our home, the best I could do was to arrive on the island on late Tuesday evening. This was at least 24 hours too long. But, what could we do? How could we make it work? We were working as hard as we could to come up with a plan. Nothing seemed to work to make the timetable meet the need. Our best efforts were coming up short.
Life is like that sometimes...we think we have it figured out, or we give our best effort to make things work out as needed. Our best efforts sometimes fall short. But, when we trust God's sovereignty, things come together in ways we can't imagine. That's because He isn't limited by the same things that limit us.
God Already Has It Worked Out
As we were developing the plan, it was in a conversation with the travel agent with whom we were working that it suddenly occurred to us...we were thinking about this all wrong. The agent pointed out to us that we were already in an ideal location to make the timetable work perfectly. Flying out of Nashville provided a flight schedule that was perfect for our needs. So, I booked my flight for 6:00 am on Monday morning, heading to St. Croix. My wife booked her flight to Little Rock for 6:30 am. Our vehicle was left at the airport for me to drive home upon my return. Friends picked her up at the airport to get her home. I was on the ground on Monday afternoon in St. Croix, at 2:45 pm...over 24 hours earlier than we could have made possible with our original plans. What about my clothes (I had only packed for a two-day trip)? The ministry in St. Croix purchased clothes for me to wear during the week I was there. You see, God already had me in the ideal location at the ideal time to make it possible to go and minister to the needs of hurting people. God's sovereignty is perfect as He goes before us to prepare the way...His faithfulness is sure, His provision is enough and His timing is perfect.
Does God Need Our Help?
I was reminded that week, that God is always at work to accomplish His plan. He isn't surprised by the unexpected circumstances of our lives. I've found that there is tremendous comfort in the reality that God is already present in the moments we have yet to experience. He is already there to be present with us when we arrive. That means He already has it under control. He is already there with the resources we need to be sustained and equipped for the moment.
The next time we face those unexpected challenges...the struggles or opportunities that life presents...let's lean into His sovereignty and trust His goodness. He doesn't need us to help Him out. He just wants us to look for His hand at work...and find peace. That is how we know we are living a life of purpose.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
How have you experienced the sovereign hand of God...working in your circumstances? Are you in a place right now that you need to trust the guidance of God's Spirit? Share your thoughts and experiences to encourage or be encouraged. We would appreciate if you would like and share the post as well.
[This post is a companion to the podcast, episode 5, by the same title. Hop over here to listen before you read on.]
The sun was just beginning to set over the hill that overlooked our subdivision. The smell of freshly cut grass lingered in the air and the shouts and laughter of us kids floated above the pulsing din of the cicadas. Our parents watched from the back deck of our neighbor's house as we zigzagged across the yard, mason jars in hand, trying to capture as many fireflies as we could. Those elusive insects were here, then there, and we darted toward each flashing light, trying to catch another one before it disappeared into the fragrant wall of honeysuckle that bordered the grass-carpeted playing field of our childhood antics. We finally collapsed onto the lawn, laughing, sweaty bodies itching from the grass in which we rolled. Our parents called us to come in as the last glimmer of light faded from the summer sky.
Summer...it is my favorite season of the year. It was as a child, and it continues to be so now. I love the sunny days, the warm nights, the comfort of being outside and all of the fauna and flora that come with it. Some of my fondest memories are associated with summer.
Conversely, I don't like winter. It may be overreacting to say I hate the winter season, but not too much so. I don't like the cold, damp days. I don't like the short days that go from dreary to dark all too quickly. I don't like the dead look of the vegetation. I don't like to walk on brown grass that crunches under your feet. Snow...well, that's the only redeeming element of the season.
But, here's the thing...we don't get summer without having winter...at least here in North America. You see, after enduring the harshness and unpleasantness of winter, I get to see everything gradually come to life in the spring...trees budding, flowers blooming, birds singing, young wildlife running about. Then, spring gradually transitions into those lazy, hazy days of summer...at least in a perfect world. But, you get the idea.
Bottom line...seasons are all necessary and each one serves its purpose. The same is true in our lives. We go through various seasons over the course of our lives and each one fits a need in the linear process. Sometimes they build upon one another, at other times they provide transition, and still others, they place us on a sort of hold to give us a chance to reset. These, and many others, are the reasons that seasons exist in our lives.
I was just finishing up the season of college life when I was preparing to get married. My fiancé and I had spent months planning, dreaming and expecting the big day that would start the next season of our lives. She had another year of college to complete and we would make our first home together in Nashville while she finished up. Everything was set, except for one thing...I needed a job to support us as we embarked upon married life. I was sweating it as the wedding day was only two weeks away. However, just at that moment, a job came through. God answered our prayers. My Dad was happy, as he had suggested just a few weeks before, that we might want to consider postponing the wedding until I had a solid income. God always shows up on time. Here's the kicker though...my job...it was working at a funeral service college, as the staff assistant. That meant a lot of things, but one of them was that I would be interfacing with deceased people and grieving families. I learned a lot about the funeral industry and how to help those who were hurting, and I came to understand more about those who would be serving their needs.
At the time, it was just a job. I needed to pay the bills...to pay our $180 monthly rent, buy our $40/week groceries and the gasoline for our one car that my wife and I shared between our jobs and school. The on-call nights, transporting of bodies from hospital morgues to funeral home prep rooms, the removal of deceased family members from their homes and even the occasional graveside service conducted for a person who had no family or friends to come and pay their last respects...these were the day-to-day of my job. To some, it was a morbid occupation. To others it was weird. At the time, for me, it was just a way to pay the bills. It was a season that was a transition to what God had called us, or so I thought. It would not be until later, that I would look back and see just how important that year of struggle and adventure was as it prepared me for the season of life and ministry that would come. Here are a few of the things that I learned during that year:
Dependence Upon One Another as a Married Couple
During our first year of marriage, my wife and I lived 5 to 7 hours away from each of our families. While they were supportive of us during those months, giving us groceries and treating us to meals out when they came to visit, they were not there with us day to day. That meant that, when we faced a conflict or challenge, neither of us could run to parents for support or consolation. Instead, we had to figure it out ourselves...we had to lean into one another and strengthen our relationship through communication and understanding. That strengthened our marriage a great deal during those first 12 months and laid a foundation that has been strong ever since...even through the harshest of tests.
Money Management and Faith for Needs
That first year of marriage was filled with wonderful things for my wife and I. We experienced so many firsts and it was a year of growing in our relationship, learning how to be on our own and dreaming about our future. To say it was a challenge for us financially that first year, is an understatement. With my minimum wage job and the money my wife earned by cleaning a couple of houses, we had just enough money to meet all of our obligations. Every two weeks, we even had enough money on Friday to go to Mr. Gatti's Pizza for dinner...our splurge! We learned to be faithful in giving our tithes first, and we learned how to make a little go a long way. Those lessons have served us well all of our married life.
How to Comfort People Who Have Suffered Loss
Dealing with death and dying is not something that every person is comfortable with, nor with which they have experience outside of their own loss. As someone who would be involved in pastoral ministry and counseling, having this experience was invaluable for learning how to care for people who are hurting. I was miles ahead of my peers as a young minister when it came to being there for our people who were facing the loss of a loved one.
As I mentioned before, part of my responsibilities in this position was to serve on-call duty on a rotation schedule. When on call, I had to leave, whatever hour of the day or night, to go to a hospital, nursing home or private home and remove the body of a decedent and transport to the funeral home. This required me to be flexible with my schedule. It taught me that it was necessary to be available at a moment's notice when people are facing tragedy. I would be called to that duty many times over the years.
Organizational Leadership and Planning
While at the funeral service college, my duties were varied...I basically served to support the Dean in whatever way needed. One of those responsibilities was to schedule the clinical rotation for the students. While it was not a complicated task, it helped me to learn about planning and working with personnel. Getting my feet wet in this process would give me experience that provided a foundation for the many organizational planning and leadership roles I have fulfilled over the years.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God Wastes Nothing
So you see, this season of life turned out to be more than just a year of waiting for life to start. It was a training ground in so many ways. It proves that God wastes nothing.
This is a truth that we all need to understand when it comes to pursuing and fulfilling our purpose in His master plan. He uses everything in our lives as a part of His shaping and forming process, so that we can fulfill His purpose for us. For each of us that is unique, and for all of us it is the same. What I mean is, He molds us into a vessel of honor as He prepares and uses us to fulfill our unique role in His Kingdom. He molds us into the image of His Son, so that we can all become more and more like Jesus until we arrive at our ultimate destination to spend eternity with Him. We will never understand how to fully pursue our purpose without understanding that simple truth.
And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.
The prophet Isaiah cried out on behalf of the people of Israel to confess their sins and seek mercy and grace from God who loves them. In the midst of his plea, the prophet acknowledges the thing that they need most...God's recreative work to be displayed in them. As the Master Potter, God will shape our lives to make them beautiful pieces of art that are useful in a world that needs our beauty and light. Like those fireflies glowing in the mason jar. We become vessels filled with His light to shine brightly in this world.
How is/has God used a particular season in your life to shape you for His purpose? What have you learned in certain seasons of life that had equipped you well in your journey with Christ? What season do you find yourself in right now and how do you believe God is going to use it? Let's get a conversation going and share your thoughts in the comments.
With over forty years of ministry experience, Randy Kinnick continues to live a life of pursuing the purpose for which he was created. Whether teaching God's Word to adults, coaching youth and young adults in finding their purpose, or caring for the hurting and abused in Southeast Asia, the adventure has taken him around the world in ways he could have never dreamed. The adventure continues!